Dominique Dunne was as an American actress who appeared in numerous TV programs and movies from 1979 to 1982. However, she was best known for playing Dana Freeling in the 1982 horror flick ‘Poltergeist.’ Being the youngest kid of screenwriter, producer, and novelist Dominick Dunne, it was quite natural for Dominique to pursue acting and become another Hollywood professional within her family. Her eldest brother is also a successful director, producer, and actor. Following her graduation from high school, she attended Milton Katselas' Workshop, eventually appearing in various stage productions, such as ‘My Three Angels,’ ‘The Mousetrap,’ and ‘West Side Story.’ Dominique later landed roles in numerous television series and films. In 1982, she was at the peak of her career and had many projects in line. However, destiny took a horrific turn and the young actress was murdered in November that year. In a controversial court case, her estranged partner John Sweeney was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and went on to serve just three and a half years in jail.
Childhood & Early Life
Dominique Dunne was born on November 23, 1959 in Santa Monica, California as the youngest child of Dominick Dunne, a writer, actor, and producer and Ellen Beatriz, a ranching heiress. She had two older brothers, Alex and Thomas. Her parents divorced in the year 1967.
Dunne studied at Taft School in Connecticut, Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles and Fountain Valley School in Colorado. Following her graduation, she spent a year in Italy where she learned the Italian language.
She later attended Milton Katselas' Workshop to study acting. Dunne then got to play various roles in a number of stage productions, such as ‘The Mousetrap,’ ‘West Side Story,’ and ‘My Three Angels.’
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Dominique Dunne started her onscreen acting career with the 1979 TV film ‘Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker’. She then had supporting roles in various television series, including ‘Hart to Hart,’ ‘Lou Grant’ and ‘Fame.’ She was cast as Paulina Bornstein in the comedy-drama ‘Breaking Away’ in 1980.
In 1982, the actress appeared in her first ever feature film, ‘Poltergeist,’ in which she played Dana Freeling, the young daughter of a couple whose family house is taken over by ghosts. Directed by Tobe Hooper, the flick became a hit and went on to earn over $122 million at the box office on a budget of $11 million.
Dunne guest-starred in the drama series ‘CHiPs’ and ‘The Quest’ and the television movie ‘The Shadow Riders,’ appearing alongside Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck, in the early 1980s. .
She appeared posthumously in an episode of the police drama ‘Hill Street Blues’. The episode aired two weeks after her death on November 18, 1982. She played a teenage mother who is abused her parents and ultimately gives her newborn up for adoption.
Relationship with John Sweeney
Dominique Dunne first met John Thomas Sweeney at a party in 1981. After a few weeks of dating, the couple moved into a one-bedroom house in West Hollywood. However, their relationship started suffering because of Sweeney's jealousy and possessiveness. He fought frequently with Dunne and even physically abused her at times.
During one argument in August 1982, Sweeney plucked handfuls of Dunne’s hair. She quickly fled to her mother's house where her boyfriend showed up and started to bang on the door. A few days later, the actress returned to him and continued their relationship.
On September 26, 1982, Sweeney grabbed her by the throat and threw her on the floor. A friend, who was staying with them, reached the room where the two were fighting.
Dunne told the friend that her boyfriend tried to strangle her but Sweeney denied the claim. She somehow fled from his clutches and again went to her mother’s place where she stayed for some days. The actress finally decided to call it quits and broke her ties with Sweeney.
On October 30, 1982, a few weeks after her breakup with Sweeney, Dunne was at her residence rehearsing with actor David Packer for an upcoming miniseries. Sweeney reached her place and both started to talk outside in the porch while Packer stayed inside. They eventually began to argue. After some time, Packer heard two screams, smacking sounds, and a thud.
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Packer left the house and approached the driveway where he saw Sweeney in the nearby bushes, kneeling over Dunne. Packer called the police and when they arrived, Sweeney stated that he had killed the actress and also claimed that he tried to kill himself as well.
Dunne was hurriedly transported to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where she was placed on life support. Doctors performed brain scans over the following days but the actress showed no brain activity. On November 4, 1982, just 19 days before Dunne’s 23rd birthday, her parents decided to remove her from life support. Her heart and kidneys were donated at the request of her mother.
Sweeney s Arrest & Conviction
Sweeney was immediately arrested after the attack and charged of attempted murder. However, the charges were dropped after Dunne died on November 4. Later, he was charged with first-degree murder. After pleading not guilty, he was charged with attack with intent to do immense bodily harm.
His trial began in August 1983 during which he claimed that he had reconciled with his girlfriend and the two had daily discussions regarding their future. According to Sweeney, on October 30, Dunne abruptly changed her mind about their reconciliation. At this point, he argued with her with no intention to kill her.
He claimed that he had no recollection of attacking the young actress until he discovered himself on top of her with both his hands around her neck. In the trial, Sweeney claimed that he attempted to give Dunne CPR and made every possible effort to bring her to life. After realizing that she had already died, Sweeney even attempted to kill himself.
On November 7, 1983, Sweeney was finally sentenced to six years in jail for manslaughter along with six additional months for the assault charge.
Dominique Dunne’s father Dominick Dunne kept a journal during Sweeney’s trial. His journal writings were later published in an article under the titled "Justice: A Father's Account of the Trial of his Daughter's Killer," which was featured in the ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine in March 1984.
The actress’ mother Ellen founded a victims'-rights group called ‘Justice for Homicide Victims’, a year after her daughter's death.
Sweeney was released on parole in 1986 after having completed a jail term of three years, seven months and 27 days out of his 6½-year sentence. Soon after his release, he was hired as the head chef at a California-based restaurant named ‘The Chronicle.’
Dominique Dunne was very superstitious.
She loved animals. She had a special kind of affection for unwanted stray animals and even allowed a lot of them to settle at her home.